Flare Path at Richmond Theatre
Flare Path, a play by Terrence Rattigan, was first performed in 1942 and has enjoyed many revivals, one as recently as 2011 – with Sienna Miller and James Purefoy in the anchor roles. This latest touring version appears more modest in production value but retains the original authenticity.
Set over a 24-hour period during WWII, the premise of Flare Path is billed as a conflict between love and the greater sense of duty: the female subject, Patricia Warren (played by Olivia Hallinan), struggles to choose between the two in the forms of her devoted husband, RAF Flight Lieutenant Graham (Alistair Whatley) and her secret lover, a famous Hollywood star known as Peter Kyle (Leon Ockenden). Clearly positioned as the main strand of the story, this sadly is the very part that does not work. In a plot that should be driven by an equally matched battle between the two ideologies, one part of the argument remains very one-dimensional, making it almost impossible to care about.
The “love” side of this conflict is approached with such clichéd shallowness that one gets the feeling even the cast is reluctant to sell it. Why else would Hallinan, who is fairly captivating in her other scenes, suddenly fade during the dialogues with her supposed true love? In fact, Ockenden very quickly becomes the dullest aspect of this production, notwithstanding the unfavourable script. Flight Lieutenant Graham, on the other hand, is a polished character with convincing layers as the devoted husband, spirited soldier and ordinary man with faults and insecurities, and Whatley must be lauded for bringing him to life on stage with great aplomb. The result though is a lopsided plot structure that can’t keep the audience on the edge of their seats wondering which side of the argument will win.
The majestic set up of Richmond Theatre presents a chance for something breathtaking to be done with the visual and sound effects. Unfortunately, other than one satisfactory recreation of an aerodrome flare path using a set of parallel strips of light, the effects remain lacklustre. It is left to the supporting characters to prop up the story with slightly more credible sub-plots: the simple but poignant portraits of the other side of war – the loved ones back home, away from combat, for whom the only mission is finding a way to cope with the anxious waits. Indeed, it is this which ultimately becomes the main hook of the play.
M E Oren
Photos: Jack Ladenburg
Flare Path is on at Richmond Theatre from 1st September until 5th September 2015, for further information or to book visit here.